Finding Solutions Together

21 Feb

by Jose Morales

BEHIND THE EUPHORIA brought by Noynoy Aquino’s ascent to the presidency is a renewed hope for

us Filipinos. Fate had been unkind to informal settlers in recent administrations, particularly under Joseph Estrada and

Gloria Arroyo. Massive evictions and demolitions rendered thousands of families homeless. The lack of clear

relocation resulted in their further impoverishment, both economically and psychologically. But we have

learned to fight for our rights. As the saying goes, we “never say die!”

After entering into a covenant with our sector, we pinned our hopes on President Aquino and volunteered

to campaign for him. We are now at a new chapter of our struggle, and we cannot afford to merely wait for the president

 to deliver the changes he promised to implement. We are called to help him in developing strategies that will solve our problems without compromising our basic rights as human persons. In the process, we should always be re- minded that we also have the right to

the fruits of development which we help bring in society as “workforce of the cities.”

As we expect dramatic changes under the new government, we should be proactive in protecting and fighting for

our rights. Let us continue the fight!


Jose Morales is the president of ULAP, a federation of organized communities based in river easements.



In pursuit of an inclusive city

21 Feb

Gerald M. Nicolas

The contrast between Naga City and Quezon City is staggering. In terms of land area, Naga City (8,448 hectares) is half the size of Quezon City (16,112 hectares). As of 2007, the population of Bicol’s industrial hub was only 12,300 persons short of Quezon City’s Barangay Commonwealth’s 172,834. Last year, Naga City’s revenue was P323 million while Quezon City earned more than P11 billion. Quezon City is host to the biggest malls, best universities, tallest condominiums, and swankiest villages. Naga City has only a branch of a famous mall chain and an Ateneo “extension.” There are no “killer highways” that put Nagueños’ lives in danger, but they cannot brag that their place is a “City of Stars.”

But there is something that distinguishes Naga City from Quezon City, or any city in Metro Manila for that matter. It is its brand of urban governance that embraces local democracy and exemplifies political maturity.

While Typhoon “Juaning” was battering the Bicol region, urban poor leaders and NGO representatives from the two cities, as well as from Legazpi, Valenzuela and Caloocan, met in a humble LGU-owned facility in Naga to share stories about their experiences in exhorting their local governments to allow citizens to take part in governance. It was a short but insightful discussion. The leaders from Quezon City and Naga City described their struggle as “long and arduous.” Their efforts though have so far led to (or are heading towards) opposite directions.

People’s participation in the local government of Naga City was institutionalized through the Empowerment Ordinance. Passed in 1995, the landmark ordinance mandated the city government to engage accredited NGOs and people’s organizations (POs), collectively known as the Naga City People’s Council (NCPC), in running the affairs of the city. The idea did not sit well with politicians, who were not receptive to a government-NGO/citizens partnership and unsympathetic to their constituents’ concerns, particularly those of the poor. But with then Mayor Jessie Robredo at the helm, it was not difficult for civil society groups—representing different sectors such as businessmen, informal settlers, tricycle and jeepney drivers, and laborers—to influence government. The NCPC was able to stop the construction of a golf course that would have put a strain on the city’s water sources. It was also responsible for the development of the implementing rules of the Kaantabay sa Kauswagan Program that has benefited thousands of informal settlers through in-city relocation and site-upgrading projects. One could sense the pride in the Nagueño urban poor leaders as they shared their experiences, observations and insights as to what happens when local government gives them space to contribute to the city’s development.

Can a participatory governance mechanism similar to the NCPC be replicated in Quezon City? Why not? As a matter of fact, an initiative to bring this about has started. During his term as city councilor, now Rep. Jorge Banal Jr. introduced the “Participation, Accountability and Transparency (PAT) Ordinance.” The PAT Ordinance, passed in 2009, would create the People’s Council of Quezon City (PCQC), giving citizens’ groups a voice in governance. But the people’s organizations and NGOs that pushed for the measure are beginning to worry about the seeming lack of interest on the part of the city’s present leadership to put the PCQC in action—PAT ordinance’s implementing rules and regulations (IRR) have yet to be issued.

One urban poor leader pointed out that it needs an open-minded and visionary leader like Jessie Robredo to allow vibrant civil society participation. He went on to say that local governance in Quezon City, from the City Hall down to the barangay, has been characterized by personalistic and patronage-based politics. Elected leaders secure votes by handing out favors to their constituents but offer them no opportunities for collective and constructive participation in decisions that affect their welfare.

Can the elected officials of Quezon City enter into real dialogue with nongovernment groups, even those that criticize them, in order to develop programs for the homeless, women, children, and informally employed? Will they allow these sectors to have a voice in the formulation of policies and development plans?

People’s participation is an essential element of good urban governance. Quezon City may be big and rich, but its local government and civil society can learn a lesson or two from a small city like Naga. An initiative has already been taken by the previous city administration through the passage of the PAT ordinance, but its implementation is being held up simply by the absence of the IRR. Is anyone in the present city government afraid of people’s participation? It is only when the citizens, especially those coming from the vulnerable sectors, are given the room to become partners in governance that cities, and society in general, can become truly inclusive and democratic, not just inhabited by “stars.”

This article was published in Philippine Daily Inquirer (August 12, 2011)


21 Feb



John J. Carroll Institute on Church and Social Issues (JJCICSI)


Everyone is proclaiming that riverbank settlers must not

be allowed to return and rebuild their shelters. Yet, the

settlers are doing exactly that. Why? Are they simply

stubborn and oblivious to danger? Or is there something

the rest of us do not understand about their survival


My visit to a devastated Tullahan River community – below

Quezon City’s North Fairview Bridge – in the aftermath of

“Ondoy’s” flash floods offered some insights. A bevy of barangay

(village) officials in their crisp bright-blue uniforms set off

by yellow piping – a dramatic contrast to the faded and damp

clothing of the flood victims – was striding around what was

left of the settlement. Two of them had posted themselves

prominently on an enormous rock that commanded a panoramic

view of the settlement. Eyeing clusters of busy residents,

the officials appeared to be making sure that no surreptitious

attempts at housing reconstruction were underway.

The lively if sober scene featured young women and children

washing mud-caked clothes with or without soap, immersed

knee-deep in shallow pools along the edge of the brown and

refuse-strewn river. Young girls were arranging spaces on

makeshift clotheslines to hang up the “clean” laundry. Mothers

were bathing stark-naked shivering toddlers with water from a

source one didn’t even want to contemplate. The men were

mainly fixing something –a chair, a table, a stove – or simply

sitting around and talking. Were they perhaps waiting for the

barangay team to leave so they could continue repairing their

devastated homes?

Aling Edna (pseudonym) told us how she and her neighbors

had attempted to construct temporary shelters on a vacant 2.4-

hectare expanse of private land above them. But no sooner had

they put up their structures than barangay officials were tearing

them down. This was private property, scolded the demolition

crew. Lamented Aling Edna: “Why does our government allow

a single family to hold so much unused land nearby, while

thousands of us here are struggling to find a place where we can

simply rest and begin restoring our lives?”

Their leaders elaborated: “Most of the year, living along the

waterways is fine. If we had any other choice like better land

nearby, we would surely go for it. But we don’t. So, we do the

best we can living here, working hard to make a better life in

the city, feeding our children and sending them to school. Typhoons

come and go but we are used to them. We usually move

the women, children and older people to the schoolhouse to

wait out the wind and rain. Some of us stay behind to guard our

houses and possessions. When the weather clears up, we return,

assess the damage and start cleaning up, try to get relief

goods while reconstructing our houses, and go back to our


(livelihood) as soon as we can. Ondoy took us by

surprise though, like everyone else. The waters rose so quickly!

“Danger zone? Maybe. But living on the river is not as dangerous

as being forced into faraway resettlement sites where there

is no work. The government dumps thousands of us there with

insufficient food, water, health services, schools, sanitation,

street lights, cheap transportation, but especially no


We cannot survive there. Yet, they still want us to amortize

units that most of us cannot afford and never wanted in the

first place!”

The collective trauma wreaked by tropical storm Ondoy should

at last force us to confront the questions that 3 million poor

informal settlers in Metro Manila have been raising for decades:

“Why is there no place in this city for us to live legally and

productively as the hardworking, upstanding people we are?

We may be poor, but we pay taxes every time we buy something.

And without our services, the city couldn’t operate!”

For urban poor people, living near their sources of income is

central to their survival strategies. Onsite security of tenure

thus commands a far higher priority for them than housing.

Nonetheless, government insists that houses in well laid-out

communities are their primary need, even if these are far outside

the city and offer no work opportunities. Housing officials

extol the number of units built in Bulacan, Cavite and Laguna

as “filling the housing backlog.” But they say nothing of the

misery they have inflicted upon thousands of evicted families

driven away from their livelihoods in the city to face economic

uncertainty; or about family displacement and the additional

threats to the poor’s already precarious existence.

NGOs and people’s organizations, supported by the United

Nations Habitat, have for decades advocated as most humane

and economically efficient, community proposals for onsite

secure tenure and upgrading according to people’s plans, together

with low interest housing loans that allow for incremental

construction. Examples of successful demand-driven

schemes abound in “Presidential Proclamation sites,” like Sama

-Sama in Commonwealth, Quezon City, and areas covered by

the Community Mortgage Program and the Homeless People’s

Federation of the Philippines. Private sector efforts like Gawad

Kalinga and Habitat International likewise affirm the locational


If millions of poor Filipinos are to have a place in the city, a

deeper set of issues must now surface. These concern land values,

land availability, concepts of ownership, LGU responsibilities

and the right to the city. Ondoy reminded us it is time to

take stock and get serious about urban land reform.

There are vacant lands in many of Metro Manila’s constituent

cities, but they are not available for housing the metropolis’ low

-income workforce. Contributing to this skewed situation are

low idle-land taxation rates, rising land values, obsolete ownership

laws and inappropriate institutional set-ups.

The result is helter-skelter city planning that allocates available

land to malls, upscale residential subdivisions and commercial

uses, thus bringing in higher tax collections and, possibly, more

corruption while ignoring the needs of millions of urban poor


The recent calamity was a wake-up call for government policy

planners. Before relegating riverbank dwellers to housing units

in Bulacan and Laguna, officials need to listen to and discuss

real options with the one-third of the metropolitan citizenry

victimized by the flash floods. It is time to clear our societal

channels of the debris formed by obsolete rules and outlooks,

and regenerate ourselves as a fast-flowing mainstream force

toward social reform. As hardworking but marginalized residents,

the urban poor form our metropolis’ workforce. As Filipino

citizens, they are entitled to live in it, like everyone else.

That is the message of Ondoy.


20 Feb

ni Theresa Antonio

Oportunidad para sa aming mga taga-Barangay Gulod ang apat na araw na pag-kakataong ibinahagi sa amin ng TAO Pilipinas at ng Foundation for the Development of the Urban Poor (FDUP). Bumukas sa aming mga mata ang nangyari noong Bagyong Ondoy, subali’t sa tulong ng seminar na ito, kami ay higit na naging mulat sa ka-halagahan ng paghahanda sa mga darating na panganib sa aming mga komunidad. Ang Barangay Gulod ay isa sa mga bulnerableng lugar sa Quezon City. Lantad ito sa mga panganib gaya ng baha, sunog, pagguho ng lupa (lalo na sa mga naninirahan sa mga tina-guriang danger areas), lindol (lalo na’t nasa ibabaw o malapit sa tina-tawag na West Valley Trench), at tagtuyot. Pinalalala ang mga ito ng nararanasan nating pagbabago sa klima dulot ng global warming at patuloy na pagdami ng populasyon. Sa mga ibinahaging kaalaman ng mga eksperto sa usaping klima, kalamidad, at paghahanda para sa mga panganib, natutunan namin ang mga maaaring agarang pagtugon sa sasagupaing mga panganib sa aming komunidad. Gamit ang module at mapang idinisenyo ng TAO Pilipinas, aming nasuri ang mga panganib sa pitong area ng Gulod. Gamit naman ang inputs ng mga dalubhasa sa natural disasters, nakapaglista ang mga dumalo ng mga posibleng proyekto para maibsan ang mga negatibong epekto ng mga kalami-dad, higit lalo ng mga mahihirap na pamilya. Bilang mga pinuno ng Gulod Urban Poor Alliance (GUPA), tungkulin naming ibahagi ang mga ito sa aming mga kabarangay. Una sa mga isusu-long namin, kasama sina Kagawad Marlon Serrano at Kag. Nonito Gonzales, ang pagbubuo ng isang barangay disaster coordinating council (BDCC). 